Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a very common condition, 90% of people who have been diagnosed with diabetes have type 2. It was estimated in 2014 that approximately 422 million adults were living with the condition worldwide. This figure is set to almost double by 2035.

Diabetes is what is known as a metabolic disorder and so can display may traits such as:

  • Increased waist circumference
  • High triglycerides
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar levels

When at least 3 out of 5 of these traits alongside insulin resistance are present the metabolic disease can be diagnosed. Once diagnosed, type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition and must be controlled with medication and/or lifestyle changes.

The typical outcome of type 2 diabetes is hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) which results from:

  • Insulin resistance
    • Ineffective use of the insulin which is naturally produced by the body
    • Inability to produce insulin

What causes Type 2?

Type 2 occurs because of a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Environmental factors may include smoking while a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes mellitus may be a result of parents also having the condition.

Environmental risk factors can include:

  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having high cholesterol levels
  • South Asian descent
  • African-Caribbean descent
  • Smoking
  • Having a waist size of:
    • 31.5 inches for women
    • 37 inches for men

Genetic risk factors include:

  • If one parent has type 2 diabetes
    • Risk of developing diabetes yourself is 15%
  • If both parents have type 2 diabetes
    • Risk of developing diabetes yourself is 75%

The role of Insulin in the development of type 2 diabetes

Changes in insulin sensitivity can occur at various stages throughout our lives. For example, during puberty, pregnancy and with aging, the likelihood of developing insulin resistance is increased. However, increased sensitivity to insulin is also observed during times where there is a lack of physical exercise or when we have an increased carbohydrate intake.

Insulin resistance is the term used to define the fact that the cells in the body don’t respond properly to insulin, a hormone produced by the beta cells in the pancreas. Resistance to insulin is usually associated with being overweight but it is possible to develop insulin resistance without being overweight or obese.

Insulin enables the cells in the body to take in glucose from the blood and use it as a source of energy or for storage as fat. Therefore, insulin resistance makes it much more likely that blood glucose levels will increase eventually leading to hyperglycaemia.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes occur because glucose remains in our bloodstream rather than being used by cells as fuel for energy. Instead the body works hard to excrete the excess glucose in our blood in our urine.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Urinating more often
    • Mainly during the night
  • Extreme tiredness/fatigue
  • Slower healing cuts and wounds
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased infections
    • E.g. thrush
  • Unexplained weight loss

These symptoms are often very subtle, develop slowly, and you may not realise you have them. Instead your GP may diagnose you during a routine check-up.

Is Type 2 diabetes serious?

Type 2 diabetes can be a serious condition, especially if it isn’t kept under control. Usually medication is required to help control blood sugar level such as metformin or insulin therapy.

If left untreated or not controlled adequately the side effects of the condition can include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Risk of stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetic retinopathy
    • Biggest cause of blindness in working age population
  • Nerve damage
    • Can lead to amputation of limbs

Early diagnosis can prevent these conditions from developing, however in many cases 50% of people diagnosed with type 2 begin to show some signs of these health complications.

How to prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by making some changes to our lifestyle. After all, lifestyle choices pose a real risk to our development of the condition.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating a healthy, low carb diet can help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. A low carb diet equates to eating less than 130 grams of carbohydrates per day.

Carbohydrates provide energy for the body and, so they increase our blood glucose levels.

Following a low carb diet means:

  • Eating lots of non-starchy vegetables
  • Eating less, sugar, processed foods and grains
  • Moderate protein intake
  • Slightly increased natural fat intake

Natural fats can include:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Avocados
  • Olives

If you are taking diabetic medication you should speak to your GP before beginning a low carb diet.

Get some exercise

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is a definite risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. To prevent the condition, you should aim to do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.

It can be difficult for some people to commit to exercise regimes but there are easy ways to motivate yourself, such:

  • Join a class with a friend or family member
  • Take the dog for a brisk walk
  • Walk or cycle to work or school
  • Join dance classes
  • Take up gardening
    • Maybe even grow your own fruit and vegetables

The benefits of exercise are not just limited to type 2 diabetes, it can help your mental wellbeing, self-confidence, cardiovascular health and lung function.

Stop smoking

Smoking can also be a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. So, try to give up using smoking aids or using the NHS Stop Smoking Service.

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Having always been intrigued by how body’s work, both in their day to day functions and also when things go wrong, Leanne is pursuing her passion for health. By combining her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science and a Masters in Science communication with her love for writing, she is passing on her knowledge to Health Hub readers. Leanne strongly believes that science and health are something that should be talked about more and she hopes her articles will enable such conversations.